Herbert Brown, whose family has owned White’s Ferry for decades, said he has offered Rockland Farm a one-time payment of $400,000 for a 5,000-square-foot easement that would allow him to reopen the service. The farm previously had sought $200,000 annually for landing rights — an amount Brown said the six-employee business could not afford.
“That’s more expensive than land in Washington, D.C.,” he said Friday. “They said they’d like to buy the ferry, so I’m talking to them about that. All I want to do is get the boat crossing the river again.”
Rockland spokeswoman Margaret L. Brown said in a statement that the negotiations “haven’t exactly been a two-way exchange.”
“White’s Ferry has indisputably made millions of dollars in net profits since it violated the prior license agreement in 2004 — without paying Rockland anything,” she said.
Herbert Brown said this week that there had been no recent movement in the negotiations.
The closure of White’s Ferry was met with community outcry a few days after Christmas when, without warning, an idyllic route between two states in a traffic-clogged region disappeared. Up to 600 vehicles a day used the cable-run ferry, officials said, which cost $8 round trip for cars.
Traffic was down 30 percent amid the coronavirus pandemic, while flooding had forced the ferry to suspend services temporarily.
After the closure, criticism of Rockland was so vitriolic that a similarly named farm in Maryland posted an online message to note it is not affiliated with the farm.
Allan Hung’s commute immediately lengthened with the ferry’s closure. An air traffic controller who lives near Gaithersburg, Md., he drives to work in Leesburg, Va.
Hung said a trip that could be as quick as 40 minutes has stretched to as long as an hour and 15 minutes. A three-minute boat ride was replaced with a journey to Point of Rocks, Md., on Routes 15 and 28.
An essential worker, he has little choice but to make the trip. Hung said last week that he is “not optimistic” about a solution.
“I think if they were going to work it out, they would have worked it out by now,” he said.
Public officials said they have tried to broker a deal between White’s Ferry and Rockland to no avail — so far.
In an email, Loudoun County spokesman Glen Barbour said the county “is engaged in facilitating conversations among the parties involved.”
He added: “Our hope is that these conversations will help identify a solution that works for the property owner, the ferry operator and members of our community who utilize the ferry services.”
Montgomery County Council member Andrew Friedson (D-District 1) said he had been in touch with “all the stakeholders,” including the ferry owners, Rockland, and state and local officials. He spent part of New Year’s Eve discussing a possible solution with town commissioners in Poolesville, he said.
However, Friedson said Montgomery County ultimately has little authority in a dispute between two private parties about land not in its jurisdiction.
“Everybody is working on this and committed to finding a solution,” he said. “We are doing everything that we can.”
Litigation about landing rights between White’s Ferry and Rockland began in 2009 after the ferry company allegedly built a retaining wall on Rockland’s property. Before that, the parties had operated under a licensing agreement for decades.
In November, a Loudoun County judge ruled that White’s Ferry had trespassed on Rockland’s land and awarded Rockland more than $100,000 in damages. The judge’s 31-page opinion weighed agreements about land use dating at least as far back as 1871.
The 3½ -minute trip provided a passage in an area with long distances between bridges spanning the river. It was the only Potomac crossing between the Point of Rocks and American Legion bridges — a span of about 35 miles.
White’s Ferry was the last of the more than 100 ferries that used to cross the river.
Letty Mederos, who works on Capitol Hill, said she moved to Dickerson, Md. — near White’s Ferry — because of the service. She is a horse owner who thought of White’s Ferry as a “gateway to the mountains,” she said.
“I fell in love with the ferry,” Mederos said. “Being in your car, going from one state to another in a matter of minutes . . . it has always been a thrill. It has never stopped being a special thing.”
Before the closure, Mederos said, she went to Leesburg to shop up to five times a week. Now, facing a commute around Point of Rocks, she goes once.
“I would say that the disruption to daily life and life for me on the weekends has been devastating,” she said. “I want and pray and hope that some kind of arrangement can be made,” she said.
Herbert Brown said he had “no idea” whether Rockland would take a deal.
“They’d be crazy not to,” he said. “If the ferry doesn’t operate, you have nothing.”